Financial Geekery


RSS Feed

Recent Posts



some perspective on investment choices

99% of the time, when people talk about investing, they talk about investment choices. What are you investing in? What do you buy or sell, and when? Have you found the next Apple or Google? It’s fun to talk about — a co-worker of mine recently told me about how he invested in copper mining companies in anticipation of the Beijing Olympics — but I’d like to offer some numbers, and some perspective.

To keep things simple, let’s say you’ve got a retirement investment portfolio that returns 10%, year-on-year. Of course, no portfolio is actually going to do that — anything returning 10% is going to carry a lot of risk, and thus, will vary quite a bit from year to year — but that’s okay for what we’re looking at. For this imaginary portfolio, if you invested $200 every month — $2400 a year — after 30 years, you’d have $452,098. (Edit: of course, the assumption that you’re investing a constant amount for thirty years, rather than increasing your investment as your income increases, is also unrealistic (not to mention unwise!). But again, this is okay for our purposes.)

Not too shabby, but most people I know would want more in their retirement accounts before they’d feel comfortable calling in rich. The first thing people generally think about is how to increase that return rate. Maybe you have an awesome hedge fund, or a killer advisor, or the perfect asset allocation, or you consistently pick more good stocks than bad every year for thirty years. If they’re really, really good, maybe you’ll get an extra 2%, net of fees (whether they’re charged by the hedge fund, your advisor, or your brokerage for all those trades). Now, that may not sound like much, but don’t be fooled — that extra 2% will get you $689,993, almost $250,000 more than (over 1.5x) what you would have gotten otherwise. (For the rest of this illustration, though, let’s assume you didn’t get lucky and are earning 10%.)

But wait — we forgot about taxes. If this is after-tax money in a Roth IRA, then our illustration still stands. But what if it’s in a normal brokerage account? Well, at current capital gains rates, 15% of your returns would go to Uncle Sam every year, bringing our nominal 10% rate down to 8.5%. (Edit: to be fair, this is an unrealistically worst-case scenario. By letting your money compound for as long as possible before selling, you can reduce this hit significantly.) Suddenly, your ending portfolio goes down to $330,141; you’ve lost over $120,000, almost a quarter of that bundle.

OK, so we definitely want to take taxes into careful consideration. But what if we go a step further and boost our savings rate — maybe we invest in a 401(k) with a company match, or simply max out our allowable IRA contributions? Well, if we upped that $200 to $400/month, we’d end up with $904,195. (Yes, that is exactly twice the $200/month number — the distributive property in action.)

Alright, that’s almost a million dollars, and it’s all in tax-advantaged accounts. But there’s one more thing we can do — what if instead of increasing our savings, we had just started investing earlier. Thirty years represents a 35-year-old waking up one day and saying, “hey, if I want to retire at 65, I better get a move on” — what if we started saving $100/month right out of college? After 44 years, you would have one million, eight hundred ninety-five thousand, five hundred and three dollars.

I can’t make the point any clearer: start saving for retirement now. Even if you can only go with $50 or even $25 a month — start with the basic advice here, and refine your investing strategy as you go. Yes, investment choices, taxes, and putting a lot away are all important, but they all pale in comparison to starting as soon as you can (and gradually increasing your contributions over time).

Photo by Journey Photographic.

5-Minute Financial Scorecard

Whether you’re intentional about it or not, you’re using a set of financial strategies. How much benefit are you reaping from them -- and how much more could they be making? Answer a few questions and find out how optimized your financial strategies are!

Your data is completely private. We’ll only use your e-mail to keep you up to date!


The information on this site is provided “AS IS” and without warranties of any kind either express or implied. To the fullest extent permissible pursuant to applicable laws, Seaborn Financial, LLC (referred to as "Seaborn") disclaims all warranties, express or implied, including, but not limited to, implied warranties of merchantability, non-infringement and suitability for a particular purpose. Seaborn does not warrant that the information will be free from error. None of the information provided on this website is intended as investment, tax, accounting or legal advice,  as an offer or solicitation of an offer to buy or sell, or as an endorsement of any company, security, fund, or other securities or non-securities offering. The information should not be relied upon for purposes of transacting securities or other investments. Your use of the information is at your sole risk. Under no circumstances shall Seaborn be liable for any direct, indirect, special or consequential damages that result from the use of, or the inability to use, the materials in this site, even if Seaborn or a Seaborn-authorized representative has been advised of the possibility of such damages. In no event shall Seaborn Financial, LLC have any liability to you for damages, losses and causes of action for accessing this site. Information on this website should not be considered a solicitation to buy, an offer to sell, or a recommendation of any security in any jurisdiction where such offer, solicitation, or recommendation would be unlawful or unauthorized.



6617 Oasis Drive, Austin, TX 78749


Follow us on